It is looking like a slow week for cinema after the excitement and glamour of the Oscars on Sunday evening. Awards season is over and we are now entering in to that murky territory between the statuettes and the summer blockbusters. It is a time when a real mix of films are released, and one such picture that took my fancy today was We Are What We Are, a remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film Somos Lo Que Hay. From what I have read, the two films differ slightly in plot detail, but share the same premise of an unusual family who indulge in cannibalism and begin to unravel upon the death of one of their members. In the Mexican original it is the father that passes away at the beginning, whereas in We Are What We Are it is the mother, leaving three children and their sinister father to navigate a series of obstacles when a massive storm begins to reveal a number of clues as to the whereabouts of a number of missing persons in the area, each of them leading directly back to the reclusive Parker family.
Do not fear, nothing that I have said thus far can be considered spoilers. In fact, the film lays the majority of its main plot points out fairly early in the picture. Rather than relying on the old hand motifs of the plot twist and employing cheap ‘jump’ tactics, the film keeps the audience engaged by upholding a sustained feeling of dread and discomfort that never drops in intensity from beginning to end. Hardly any secrets are kept as the plot progresses, leaving us more aligned with the Parker family and their crimes than with the detectives trying to solve the mystery, a side of the argument not many filmmakers choose for the audience to be on. The picture, then, becomes less about finding out who did what, but effectively a story within a story. Whilst the periphery characters are concerned with discovering what we as viewers already know, the main focus of the film becomes the story of Frank Parker’s children and their personal struggles with the morality of their situation and their growing fear of their grieving father. Daughters Iris and Rose, as tradition states, must not take the responsibility of attaining and preparing the ‘family meals’, a practise which leaves both girls torn over the way in which they live their lives and wondering whether they and their younger brother Rory can escape Frank’s overprotective grasp and make a new, normal life somewhere else. This guilt ridden attitude toward cannibalism is a refreshing change to many of the unoriginal representations we have seen in the horror genre of late, instead portraying those who eat human flesh as rabid, uncontrollable creatures. For a film so bloody in theory, We Are What We Are indulges in very little of the ‘gore porn’ that has become so prominent in many pictures of this nature in recent years. It is to the film’s benefit, as when a scene does arise that contains graphic violent content, the impact upon the audience is so much greater for having been starved of it throughout, the climactic scene in particular leaving a lasting impression with its rather savage and shocking action sequence.
It is integral for a film so heavily focused on just a few characters to contain engaging performances, and for the most part We Are What We Are achieves that goal. Bill Sage as patriarch Frank Parker is a menacing and overbearing presence, a man of few words that manages to strike fear in his daughters’ hearts with just a look or a sentence. Ambyr Childers as eldest daughter Iris captures the strangeness, hopelessness and fear of her character’s situation, but the performance at times feels somewhat hollow, as if she is not fully invested in the role. The same cannot be said for Julie Garner as younger sister Rose, who carries the weight and intensity of the plot with apparent ease. There is a steeliness about her performance that elevates it above that of Childers’, and it is a shame that her role as the younger sibling is perhaps not as prominent as the weaker turn by her colleague. Completing the family is young Jack Gore as Rory. Though acted well enough, Rory serves no real purpose in the plot other than giving the much more active sisters a body to protect. Arguably the loving and protective relationship between the three ‘children’ opposes the dangerous presence of their father, but one can’t help but feel that Rory’s character could have been put to much better use in the narrative.
Overall, We Are What We Are is an enjoyable yet fairly forgettable film that should rightly be praised for a somewhat original take on the much used horror theme of cannibalism. The tense family relations that hold the picture together are reminiscent of a film like Stoker, but with a much more cognisant and engaging narrative. As is usually the case with remakes of foreign language films, the original is likely to be better, but I am in no hurry to tread on similar ground so soon after seeing this. It is well paced, does not outstay its welcome, and the impact of the final scene alone is enough to warrant at least one viewing. It is not the worst horror film I have seen, nor is it the best, destined to do the rounds at teenage sleepovers for the next few years, but not much shelf life after that.